Gras’ career began in his native France where he worked at several top Michelin-rated establishments, including: Lucas Carton, where he was chef de partie under Alain Senderens; Restaurant Guy Savoy, where he was chef de cuisine; Hotel de Paris Monaco, where he was chef de cuisine under Alain Ducasse; and Restaurant Alain Ducasse Paris, where he was the opening chef de cuisine.
Gras’ American debut was in 1997 at Peacock Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where, as Executive Chef, he received a three star review from Ruth Reichl of the New York Times. He spent four successful years there before moving to San Francisco, where he was named the Executive Chef of the Fifth Floor. His work at the Fifth Floor was received with critical accolades including San Francisco Magazine’s Chef of the Year and Best New Restaurant 2002, Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef 2002, and he was featured on the cover of Gourmet Magazine in 2003.
Gras opened his first restaurant in Chicago, L2O, in May 2008. In March 2009, L2O was nominated for a James_Beard_Foundation award for “Best New Restaurant” and named to GAYOT.com’s list of the Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. in 2010 and 3 michelin stars.
Really he did an amazing job. As a chef who is not japanese he did this cuisine proud and deservingly achieved 3 michelin stars.
He created the L2o blog that I was passionately following. This blog was the best chef blog and you was able to follow every single step of the creation of L2o as it was taking shape through this blog. Especially the dish creations.
Unfortunately to soon after the 3rd star was awarded a shock announcement was made that Laurent Gras was going to depart.
I dont know exactly what happened between him and the Richard Melman owner of L2o however, it may have been that the owner suddenly wanted to implement changes that would have fundamentally changed the essence and work that Laurent had established.
This is what I heard through the grapevine however this story is to familiar to me.
Here is what I found on the net:
“In November 2010, Gras left L2O. In the same month, the newly published Michelin Guide for Chicago gave the restaurant three stars, its top rating. Gras’ departure seemed to many an overnight decision, but he and the owner of acclaimed Chicago restaurant L20, Richard Melman have had disagreements. “I love L2O and am very proud of everything we achieved there. But (owner) Rich Melman and I have always had different points of view on L2O. In July, we talked about changes he wanted to make, and for me, these changes would alter the character of L2O and ultimately make it a different experience. I let him know then that I would be leaving. “
The owner started claiming Laurent Grant to be unreasonable but I dont believe this to be so personally.
I dont believe that if a chef is left to continue his work that he randomly becomes unreasonable.
At first backers/owners dont know what the restaurant will be at all and the more it manifests before there eyes and the successes starts taking shape people start thinking things and wanting to make decisions that end up destroying the very hart of what the restaurant is.
Ego is like a poison a very big disturbance.
This is always such a shame. You work so hard to create something so unique with so much passion. It is fully your work with the help of many incredible talented people that were handpicked for this job understanding the peoples potentials and what they can bring to this project, however because we chefs usually dont have any money invested in the business we only create, we have not that much say. The backers always can create changes that are really hard to tolerate at times.
Shortly after Laurent Grants departure the restaurant L2o lost 2 stars:
“L20, which lost its famed chef, Laurent Gras, the day after earning its third Michelin star last year, was demoted to one star.” (from another blog)
I really understand this and feel compassion to the chefs. I am not saying Chefs are always right, I can only talk about things that I have experienced in that kind of situation myself and how hard it is.
This kind of talent and Passion being able to achieve such a beautiful restaurant to such a level is a masterpiece and best left in the hands of the one who loves it and who created it in the first place.
In spain it is so wonderful as most of the chefs are the new generation to take over the parents restaurant and fully are able to do there work without anyone interfering with full support of the family.
El Bulli was not a family story like Joan Roca for example however over the years the entire team in El Bulli fully were able to go to the most incredible and unthinkable possibility of Ferran Adria’s imagination without a flinch and it all has brought everyone only good.
Business and pure passion is a hard one and I have rarely seen peace with that short of arrangement if it is not based on a fare balance that serves both sides involved. There has to be a full trust and the battle of the wills must be really clearly eliminated.
I wish that Chefs that are so unique that have great vision and the ability to create something special would be more valued in a business partnership. Here in the UK you would get a small percentage and a good salary in some cases not even such a great salary for creating everything and owning nothing at the end.
You may even get exploited as you are a young and talented chef driven with passion wanting to make your mark on the world.
You would work day and night so intensely especially the first 3 years almost sleeping in the restaurant and then after you get awards, michelin star etc ….you can be with only your achievements and no money in the bank and incredibly drained.
I am not sure how it works in the USA it may be better for Chef Patrons?
Now L2o is in my humble opinion lost its beautiful soul.
Anyway, Laurent Grant remains a hero to me and many chefs around the globe and I to this day remember every single page of his blog.
He mentioned on one of his blogs the association between fashion and a dish and truly his interpretation was really beautiful. His interest in photography leeds him to finding inspiration for his dishes in many different ways that are truly wonderful.
Unfortunately I could never make it on time to visit L2o and just before he made a shock announcement that he was leaving me and my pastry chef were just looking into how we could go there and even work for him or do a stage.
I found the pictures:
This is a sample of the aesthetic and excellence of Laurent Grant drawing inspiration from John Galliano for Christian Dior runway show 2009. This is a sample of the excellent blog that Laurent was cultivating for L2o at the time :
“If John Galliano gives the tone for spring 2009, color will make winter fade pretty quickly. And we need it here in Chicago. In fashion and art there is always an artist who gives the tone and inspiration for the season. I truly think it affects others working with creativity in other fields. Perfume and fragrance are also very related to the moment and change over the years. Food also, it follows a trend. In the picture below from Galliano’s spring collection, I feel a playful extravagance, the harlequin brings simple and tone of elegance.”
“For me, these pictures represent a moment that has already flown away. As soon as these pieces have been created they are replaced by others for the next season. It is speed to change that a kitchen can follow, but only to the extend that classic food remains the backbone to support the extravagance of the moment. Pierre Gagnaire, an immensely talented chef, said “I hope my customers forgive me for all the mistakes I have made sometimes preparing food.” I like this idea that he is humble to his both his customers and his inspiration at the same time. It is a balance to find between the emotion and the passion of changing food with the right judgment to make it enjoyable and understandable.” Laurent Grant
His blog was truly a complete pleasure for so many chefs in the industry and we are all exited to hear any news about his new adventures and creative associations.
I can not express fully the multitude of wealth that was coming from his blog. Just briefly it was about ingredients, techniques, step by step composition of the cult dishes he created for L2o, Creative associations, kitchen equipment and much more.
I wish Laurent Grant that all his dreams come true, that he will find the restaurant of his dreams and that he gets every support he deserves.
I recently bought a book “The art of the Restauranteur” and the author mentions that it has been to much attention given to the chefs and not the restauranteurs. I beg to differ and feel that all my favourite restaurants all revolve around the chef work itself. The book is of course interesting and wonderful it is just that point I disagree on firmly. I have mixed feelings about it.
He claims ” Many chefs are extraordinary talented individuals whose food I have great pleasure of eating, a pleasure I hope will continue for many years. But great chefs dont make necessarily great restaurants”
However equally a restauranteur does not necessarily make a great restaurant either.
A great restaurant can come from many different ways of approach. A great chef and an artist in combination with great front of house talent for example, many of my friends created exactly what they want with architects and designers themselves and are incredible.
Chefs that are talented like Laurent Grant need to be fully in the elements of the restaurant without to much interference.
The entire experience flourishes from the hart of the chefs work like a flower. Everything revolves for me around this element.
Personally I can not eat at Alan Yau’s restaurants no matter how beautiful the decor is. I love him for what he creates however there is to many disjointed elements that make the experience lacking in so many way’s.
My favourite restaurant of his would be Princi because it is casual chic and the food is easy and relevant for buzzy soho.
The passion needs to be a thread that is apparent in every single little detail of the entire sequence of events during a course of a meal in order for the restaurant to transcend into an experience forth talking about.
For this of course the chef needs the talent of the front of house management however the talent and uniqueness of the chef is unquestionable the predominant factor for me.
In an ideal world the balance of all elements take there valid position inorder to create the vision to its fullest potential.
I personally think it is better for chefs to have something small but that is yours and you do the best you can without having any problems with partners and owners apart from minor things. Just work at it as best as you can. Nowadays a michelin chef can be in any kind of restaurant it does not have to be a palace costing millions. If your food is good we will all go there no matter if we have a fancy setting or not. Probably nowadays it may be better to be not so fancy as it is more raw and real as well as relatable.
I understand that the interpretation of a kyoto style restaurant seemingly has to be very unique however there are many ways to present this standard and it can be all generate from the unique people involved rather then from the quality of the furnishings.
Mugariz is a very good example of what I am trying to say. I dont mean to say it was cheap to set this up, Mugaritz is extremely refined and creatively stimulating on a really high level however it is not because they have extravagant settings. We can learn from the way they are to adjust something that fits to our budget and make it work.
I will always appreciate Laurent Grant and will keep looking out for what he is going to do next.
Laurent Grant recently made a book called My Provence/ available at: http://www.altaeditions.com about $9.99
Dishes inspired from the Cout d’Azure.